York's Fleeting Freedom LbNA # 46505
|Placed Date||Apr 10 2009|
Everyone remembers the story of the expedition led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark from 1803-06. Most remember the name of their guide, Sacagawea, and the trials and dangers encountered along the way.
Hardly anything is remembered of the only African American member of the expedition: the slave known only as York.
York was Clark’s servant from boyhood and was willed to Clark upon his father’s death. Of course, York had to go on the expedition, but he must have been surprised about how he was treated once the expedition was underway.
He was treated as an equal.
York hunted to help feed everyone. He carried a firearm, normally forbidden for a slave. York was given other assignments important to the success of the mission, such as serving as a medic and scouting.
York served as a great conversation starter when the expedition met with Native tribes along the way. Having never seen a black man, the Native Americans were curious and thus were more willing to help Lewis and Clark with supply replenishment.
York also had something else unheard of in this era of slavery: a vote.
Whenever difficult decisions had to be made, the expedition members voted on what to do and York participated as an equal member.
The end of the Lewis and Clark expedition marked the end of York’s freedom.
While every member of the expedition received money and land for their services, York received nothing. He was refused his freedom by Clark, who resorted to beating him and hiring him out to others because York continued to demand to be set free.
York’s eventual fate is unknown. Some say Clark set him free in 1810. An unconfirmed report is that York died of cholera in 1831. Another report indicates he escaped. Years later, in 1834, a witness told of an African living among the Crow tribe who said he participated in the Lewis and Clark expedition.
I like to think of York spending the rest of his life this way. He deserved it.
Enter Cape Disappointment State Park (there is no day-use fee)
Pick up a map at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center or the Ranger Station
Park at McKenzie Head and find the historical monument. (York is mentioned and pictured second from left, on one knee.)
Ascend to the top, enjoy view and whatnot
Head back down the trail toward the parking area, past big curve right, to big curve left
There is a large pine tree two feet off the trail
Box is on the SE side of this tree, under a two foot piece of mossy wood